Andy's Northern Ontario Wildflowers

Alvar Grassland on Manitoulin Island



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Illustrated on this page are some northern Ontario wildflowers that occur on alvar grasslands found on Manitoulin Island.

Alvar areas are naturally open and occur on limestone or dolomite rocks.  Open alvar grassland has <25% tree and shrub cover and >50% herbaceous cover with graminoid plants, such as grasses (Poaceae), sedges (Cyperaceae), and rushes (Juncaceae or marsh plants) species.

While the flowering plants illustrated on this page are commonly found on the open alvar grasslands, the gradations between alvar habitats are often gradational. This means a plant may occur in more than one habitat because boundaries are seldom sharp.

Click here for more habitat information:

Wild flower List:



Alvar grassland, Manitoulin Island, Copyright 2009 Andy Fyon,

Alvar grassland with Prairie Smoke in seed.

Location: Manitoulin Island, south of Little Current.
Date: June 9, 2007

Alvar grassland with Wild Chives.

Location: Goat Island, Manitoulin.
Date: June 21, 2009

Alvar grassland, Goat Island, Manitoulin, copyright 2009 Andy Fyon,

Cylindrical Blazing Star; native perennial; also known as slender blazing star, Ontario blazing star, cylindrical blazing star, barrelhead gayfeather, few-headed blazing-star.

Family: Aster (Asteraceae)

Flower: Purple to pink; compound; on a short spike; at top of the stem; showy; each compound flower consists of about 15-25 tubular flowers that are crowded together into a head that is about 2-3 cm across; each flower has 5 small lobes that curl outward; a divided white or pinkish style protrudes from the center; no floral scent; July - September.

Leaves: Basal leaves in a rosette, petiolate. Entire leaf up to 40cm long; up to 25 cm long and 1 cm across, becoming smaller and fewer up the stem; alternate around the stem.

Stem: Single or multiple from base, from a corm; erect; herbaceous; simple or branching at the apex.

Height: Up to 1m, but generally less than 50 cm.

Habitat: Dry woodlands, prairies, fields and meadows; on Manitoulin, it occurs in alvar lands or limey meadows.

Location: Manitoulin Island, Murphy Point
Date: July 25, 2006.

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Cylindrical blazing star, copyright 2007 Andy Fyon,

Cylindrical blazing star, copyright 2007 Andy Fyon,

Compound flower head of cylindrical blazing star.

Location: Manitoulin Island, Murphy Point
Date: July 25, 2006.

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Early Buttercup; native perennial; also known as Thick-root Buttercup

Family: Buttercup (Ranunculaceae)

Flower: Yellow; single flower; on end of stalks that are up to 20 cm long; erect; 5 petals; about 1 cm across; shiny above and pale below; many stamens; 5 spreading sepals; 2 cm across; May-June.

Leaves: Leaves of the basal rosette have a long stalk or petiole (up to 15 cm long); mostly basal and deeply lobed; leaf segments rounded.

Stem: Leaves and flowering stalks originate from basal cluster.

Height: Up to 25 cm.

Habitat: Prefers calcareous soils of prairies, pastures, dry, open woods, calcareous rock outcrops, alvars, and calcareous savanna.

Interest: Ranunculus: from Latin rana, "little frog," because many species tend to grow in moist places and fascicularis meaning "of bundles".

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Early Buttercup, copyright 2009 Andy Fyon,

Location: Manitoulin - Mississagi Lighthouse
Date: May 24, 2009

Early Buttercup leaf, copyright 2007 Andy Fyon,

Early Buttercup flower and leaf.

Location: Manitoulin - Burnt Island
Date: May 26, 2007

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Field Chickweed; perennial; also known as Starry Grasswort, Meadow Chickweed, Field Chickweed, Starry Chickweed, Field Mouse-ear Chickweed.

Family: Pink (Caryophyllaceae)

Flower: White; 5 petals that are deeply notched; inflorescence consists of about 5 flowers on the tip of the flowering stem; center of flower is yellow-green in colour with distinctive white stamens; petals streaked with green at their bases; flower is about 1 cm wide; May - July.

Stem: Numerous flowering stems; minutely hairy.

Leaves: Linear and narrow with one central vein; opposite; 1-3 cm long; thin, with smooth outer margins; sessile to stem.

Height: up to 20 cm.

Habitat: Rocky or sandy places, especially in limy soil found on Alvars, inland prairies and grasslands, and in subalpine and alpine habitats.

General Interest: Forms loose mats with numerous flowering stems. "Cerastium", from the Greek keras, meaning "horn", which refers to the capsule that is tapered and bent slightly like a cow's horn. Native and circumpolar.

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Field chickweed, Copyright 2006 Andy Fyon.

Location: Manitoulin Island, Misery Bay
Date: May 20, 2006

Field of field chickweed, Copyright 2006 Andy Fyon.

Field Chickweed plants growing on an open alvar field. The background white coloured plants are Field Chickweed.

Location: Manitoulin Island, Burnt Island
Date: May 20, 2006

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Flat-stemmed spike-rush; perennial.

Family: Sedge (Cyperaceae)

Flower: One terminal spike; the inflorescence is egg-shaped, to narrowly ovoid, medium to dark brown, about 4-8 mm. long; consists of a dense head of minute florets and their scales; May to early June.

Leaves: There is no leaf blade.

Height: 20-35 cm

Habitat: In Ontario, this plant is largely confined to alvars, specifically, wet open alvar grassland and in full Sun; soil can be muddy, sandy, peaty, or gravelly; often occurs in large patches.


Location: Manitoulin Island, Bidwell Bog
Date: May 23, 2010.

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Flat-stemmed spike-rush, copyright 2010 Andy Fyon,

Fragrant sumac; also known as Skunkbush.

Family: Anacardiaceae (Cashew Family)

Flower: Pale yellow, <2mm across; 5 petals, but very small; dense clusters; flowers before leaves appear in full; May - June.

Leaves: Alternate; three leaflets; toothed margin particularly between middle and tip; petioles up to 2 cm long; aromatic when crushed.

Fruit: Hairy reddish fruit; July-August.

Stem: Straight and erect; woody.

Height: Generally <1-2 m in height; shrub-like.

Habit: Grows on dry calcareous soils of open Alvar areas on Manitoulin Island.

Interest: A calciphile plant whose leave have a strong scent when crushed.

More info:
b) Shrubs of the Boreal Forest

Fragrant sumac, copyright 2007 Andy Fyon,

Location: Goat Island alvar
Date: September 2, 2007

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Fragrant sumac, copyright 2007 Andy Fyon,

Fragrant sumac flowers.

Location: Gore Bay airport, Manitoulin Island
Date: May 26, 2007.

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Hairy Rock-cress; Native short-lived perennial or bi-annual; also known as Hairy Rockcress.

Family: Mustard (Brassicaceae)

Flower: White; Early May to late June.

Leaves: Alternate; leaves flare out at the base into a lobe; hairy toward the base, leaf stems are hairy.

Stem: Erect, generally single.

Height: Generally less than 40 cm in this area.

Habitat: Limestone alvar, limestone rocks and walls, dunes and dry banks, gravelly native prairie.

Location: Barrie Island, Manitoulin Island.
Date: May 26, 2007

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Hairy rockcress, copyright 2007 Andy Fyon,

Prairie smoke, copyright 2006 Andy Fyon

Location: Manitoulin Island
Date: May 20, 2006

Prairie smoke; perennial; also known as Old Man's Whiskers,  Three Flowered Avens, Purple (or Red) Avens, Long-plumed Avens.

Family: Rose (Rosaceae)

Flower: Reddish-brown or pinkish; at top of stalk; 2 cm long; 5 small, pale orange petals almost completely hidden by maroon sepals; flowers droop at end of stem; May - June.

Leaves: Divided into wedge-shaped to oblong, toothed or lobed leaflets; 10-25 cm long.

Height: 15-40 cm.

Habitat: Dry open prairies; prefers full sun; common on Alvars.

Other: seed look like dusters (see following photos).

Interest: Prairie Smoke is an un common prairie plant. In Ontario, it is most commonly found on alvars. The feather-fruits (see below) are called achenes. Though the flowers nod, the stems turn upright when the seed is ready to allow the wind to carry the seed away.

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prairie smoke seed, copyright 2005 Andy Fyon.

Prairie smoke in seed.

Location: Manitoulin Island
Date: June 2005.

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Prairie smoke flower, copyright 2006 Andy Fyon.

Prairie smoke flower.

Location: Manitoulin Island
Date: May 22, 2005.

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Rattlesnakeroot, copyright 2005 Andy Fyon.

Purple rattlesnake-root; Native perennial herb; also known as Glaucous white-lettuce, glaucous rattlesnakeroot.

Family: Asteraceae or Aster or Daisy

Flower: Pink or white; up to 25 in the flower head; August - September.

Leaves: Lowermost leaves are stalked. Stem leaves are clasping on the stem.

Stem: Smooth and pale coloured.

Height: Up to 2 m.

Habitat: Purple rattlesnake-root occurs in damp prairies and meadows, along streambanks, and wet rocky areas.

Location: Killarney, Lighthouse area
Date: August 29, 2004.

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Purple rattlesnake-root plant.

Location: Killarney, Lighthouse area
Date: August 29, 2004.

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Rattlesnakeroot plant, copyright 2005 Andy Fyon.

Indian paintbrush wildflower, copyright 2006 Andy Fyon.

Scarlet Paintbrush; perennial; also known as Painted Cup, Indian Paintbrush or Scarlet Paintedcup.

Family: Figwort (Scrophulariaceae)

Flower: Greenish-yellow, tubular, long 2-lobbed upper lip over 3-lobbed lower lip; 2.5 cm long; flowers are hidden in the axils of scarlet-tipped, fan-shaped bracts and arranged in a terminal spike; May - July.

Leaves: Basal leaves 2-7 cm long, in rosettes, elliptic, untoothed; stem leaves are stalkless, divided into narrow segments.

Stem: Erect; bears terminal coloured bracts and hidden flowers.

Height: 30 - 60 cm.

Habitat: Meadows, prairies, damp sandy soil.


Location: Manitoulin Island, Misery Bay
Date: May 20, 2006

Click here for a feature by the North American Native Plant Society.

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Scarlet and yellow paintbrush, copyright 2007 Andy Fyon,

Scarlet paintbrush and yellow paintbrush.

Location: Manitoulin Island, Misery Bay west.
Date: May 26, 2007.

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Indian paintbrush flower, copyright 2004 Andy Fyon.

Detail of flower head of Indian Paintbrush illustrating the orange-coloured bracts

Location: Manitoulin Island
Date: August 2, 2004

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Seneca Snakeroot; native perennial; also known as Senega snakeroot, Seneca (senega) root, Black snakeroot, and  Snakeroot.

Family: Milkwort (Polygalaceae)

Flower: Greenish-white, in terminal dense, spike-like inflorescences; tapers; flowers turn pinkish-white with age; 5 sepals, 3 petals united into a tube; late May - July.

Leaves: Leaves are small, alternate and lance-shaped; leaves are pale coloured below and dark green on top; lowest leaves may be scale-like and purplish in colour.

Stem: Many unbranched erect stems;

Height: Up to 30 cm.

Habitat: Open to partially shaded areas including prairies, open woods, roadsides. It prefers limestone-based (calcareous) soils found on Alvars.

Interest: The root has yellowish or greyish-brown colour, has a twisted snake-like appearance, smells and tastes a bit like wintergreen, and has been commercially harvested in some regions.  The plant was traditionally used as a cure for snakebite. Commercial harvesting in Manitoba includes use in cough syrups, teas and lozenges, and as a gargle for sore throats.

Seneca snakeroot, copyright 2007 Andy Fyon,

Location: Manitoulin Island, Belanger Bay
Date: June 9, 2007.

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Seneca snakeroot flower, copyright 2007 Andy Fyon,

Close up of Seneca snakeroot flower.

Location: Manitoulin Island, Belanger Bay
Date: June 9, 2007.

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Shrubby Cinquefoil (Shrubby Potentilla); botanical name for a group of hardy perennials and shrubs; is the only shrubby species among the cinquefoils.

Flower: Yellow; saucer-shaped; June to September.

Leaves: Smooth-edged; compound with 3 - 7 leaflets, but generally 5, hence the name "cinquefoil"; 

Stem: Woody shrub; the bark is reddish-brown and shreds easily.

Height: up to 1 m.

Habitat: Hot and dry locations or moist partial shade areas, such as alvars, open fields, edges of rivers, and rocky areas.

Interest: "Potentilla" means potent. Historically, the entire plant can be gathered as medicine to reduce inflammation of gums and tonsils, the tannin was used in the tanning of leathers, and the plant was used to stop the flow of blood when applied directly to open cuts; also used as a fever-reducing agent. The leaves have been used to make tea. Potentilla is a popular "home gardener" shrub because it is easy to grow, showy, is low maintenance and is tolerates dry conditions.

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Location: Manitoulin Island, south shore.
Date: 2005

White camass plant, copyright 2004 Andy Fyon,

White Camass; Native; perennial herb; also known as Death Camass, Alkalai Grass, Mountain Death Camass, Smooth Camass.

Family: Melanthiaceae or Lily Family

Flower: Yellowish white, greenish white to cream coloured; lily- or star-like flowers at top of leafless stalks; basal part of petals and sepals are yellowish-green in colour; flower heads are 10 mm long and 12 mm wide; flowers do not have a pleasant smell; June through July.

Leaves: Pale green; mainly basal; 10-20 cm long, linear, keeled, almost grass-like,  and 5 to 10 mm wide; somewhat fleshy.

Stem: Leafless; lily-like in growth form.

Height: Up to 50 cm.

Habitat: Open, damp prairies with soils having a high lime content or alvars.

General Interest: Grows from a bulb. This plant is poisonous. The seeds are the most toxic part of the plant. The Death Camass is Z. gramineus.

Location: Manitoulin Island, Misery Bay
Date: July 26, 2006.

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Detail of flower head of White Camass.

Location: Manitoulin Island
Date: August 2, 2004.

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White camass, copyright 2004 Andy Fyon.

Wild chives, Copyright 2009 Andy Fyon,

Wild Chives; Native perennial; also known as Purple onion, Prairie Onion, Wild Onion, Wild garlic, or Fall Glade Onion.

Family: Alliaceae

Flower: Rose-pink, lilac; darker centre line; tubular-bell-shaped; flowers form a dense terminal cluster; up to about 30 in a round cluster; flowers consist of 6 petals that spread slightly at the tip to form the bell; late May - June.

Leaves: Straw-like, round, hollow; about 2 mm in diameter.

Stems: Stem rises from tiny bulbs to produce a typical onion-like stem topped by lavender flowers.

Height: 20 - 50 cm.

Habitat: Moist alvar and calcareous meadows, open alvar; often with wet ground in the spring.

Interest: Circumpolar; smells like onion; the name Allium is the Latin for garlic.

Location: Mississagi Lighthouse, Manitoulin Island
Date: May 23, 2009

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© 1999-2009 Andy Fyon
Sudbury, Ontario

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Date last modified:

Andy Fyon

July 7, 2009

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